At the heart of symbolism

The flag of Hong Kong

(Detailed page)


Flag of Hong Kong

The colours of the flag

The flag of Hong Kong consists of a white five-petalled flower on a red background. Each petal contains a red five-pointed star linked to the centre of the flower.

White stands for the visible light manifested through the rainbow colours. Therefore, it symbolizes the Principle at the source of the manifestation of colours in particular and everything in general.

Red corresponds to the “highest arch” of the rainbow, the “highest ranked” in the colour manifestation order. As such, it may be considered as the “closest” colour to the Principle, source of all colours and all things. It follows that if white represents the celestial principles governing the world, red depicts their terrestrial implementation.

Consequently, the close coloured relationship between the Principle and its manifestation should be reflected within the flower drawing based on the number 5.

The five elements

In China, the number 5 derives its symbolism from the fact that it is the sum of the first even number (2) representing Earth and odd number (3) characterizing Heaven. Indeed, the number 1 represents the One, the Unity, the Principle at the source of the fundamental polarity between Heaven and Earth. As such, It contains everything and can only be beyond any distinction, including between even and odd numbers.

The pentagonal form bridging Heaven and EarthThe Chinese ideogram of the number 5The number 5 represents the union of Heaven (3) and Earth (2), of light and darkness, of white and black, of yang and yin as depicted by the pentagonal form of the flower. Digit 1, related to the pentagon top vertex, is the number of the Unity, the One at the origin of the manifestation of everything. Digit 3, associated with the three top vertexes and composed of 1 and 2, recalls the Unity and its polarization. Concerning digit 2 linked to the two bottom vertexes, it can only be connected to Earth, the world of duality par excellence.

The preceding interpretation is even reinforced by the drawing of the Chinese ideogram “wu hing” of the number 5.

The five Chinese elementsThe top and bottom bars of the ideogram represent Heaven and Earth respectively as in the Wang ideogram. The cross in the middle, which pictured the ideogram in the beginning, represents the five directions used by the human being to find his way. Standing between Heaven and Earth, he may consider the four compass point directions as well as their intersection point representing the centre. These five points are related to the five “elements” or elementary principles of the physical world manifestation in the Chinese tradition. Associated to the number 5, the element earth symbolizes the balancing point between the elements wood (east) and fire (south), which are yang and the elements metal (west) and water (north), which are yin.

The swirling flower

The central pattern of the flag represents a local flower. Its opening from the bud symbolizes the generation emanating from the centre. Conversely, because of its fragility, the flower connotes impermanence and destruction as well. Flowers depict life and death cycles.

The drawing also looks like a wheel turning around its motionless hub. The wheel is a symbol of the world in movement, in constant change compared to the unmovable centre, the immutable point from which all things are radiating, in particular the five elements.

Being part of a dynamic process where yin and yang constantly exchange their role, the elements are continuously generating and destroying each other in accordance with the constant changes and transformations in our world:

  • In the generation phase, wood generates fire, which, by becoming ashes, generates earth; earth generates metal in her womb; hot metal generates steam, which becomes water when it cools; water generates wood.
  • In the destruction phase, wood breaks up earth; earth absorbs water; water extinguishes fire; fire melts metal; metal cuts wood.

Element generation and destruction in Chinese tradition
Element generation in Chinese tradition Element destruction in Chinese tradition

The above pictures show a clear connection between the representation of the generation-destruction process on the one hand and the drawing of the flower-wheel and five-pointed stars of the central pattern on the other hand.

Nevertheless, a question has to be raised. Why is the element earth occupying the centre rather than any of the four others? During the fundamental polarization of the primeval Unity between Heaven and Earth, Earth symbolizes the principle of the physical manifestation in general. Therefore, it seems natural that the principle earth prevails over the others.

Despite the fact that the colours of the flag of Hong Kong are reflecting a strong relationship between the Principle and its manifestation, the central drawing puts mainly the emphasis on the lowest manifestation order, the physical and material world. Is it really surprising ?


  • René Guénon:
  • “The Great Triad”, South Asia Books Publisher;
  • Particularly, chapter 8 devoted to “Celestial and terrestrial numbers”.